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Biden administration goes into mission mode to help India fight COVID-19

India is struggling with a second wave of the pandemic with more than 3,00,000 daily new coronavirus cases being reported in the past few days, and hospitals in several states are reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen and beds.

April 27, 2021 / 12:59 PM IST
File image of PM Modi with Joe Biden (Image: AFP)

File image of PM Modi with Joe Biden (Image: AFP)

The Biden administration seems to have adopted a mission mode approach and removed all bureaucratic hurdles to help India in its fight against deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has spread like wildfire across the country.

India is struggling with a second wave of the pandemic with more than 3,00,000 daily new coronavirus cases being reported in the past few days, and hospitals in several states are reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen and beds.

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Various wings of the US government, including the Department of Defence, Department of Health and Human Resources, the State Department, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and US Trade Representatives have been activated to not only identify India's need, but also to remove all the bureaucratic hurdles and ensure that all medical requirements start being airlifted to India as soon as possible.

We are in close touch with Indian officials at all levels. We are also closely coordinating with our allies, friends, and Quad partners about how we can collectively support India in its hour of need, a senior administration official told reporters, soon after President Joe Biden had a telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

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Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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As requested by the Indian government, the US will be providing raw materials for the production of the Covishield vaccine at the Serum Institute of India, a second senior official said.

Given that there is not enough of the supply for the entire global manufacturing effort and in light of the current crisis, we, the United States, are diverting our order to India, the official said.

We did not intervene with the manufacturer to make them fill the Serum Institute's order; we don't have that power. Instead, what we are doing is diverting our own order of our own supplies to the Serum Institute for their manufacturing, the official explained.

USAID and CDC will provide technical assistance and materials, and strengthen vaccine communications related to confidence in vaccination, and support of vaccine readiness at the national and subnational levels.

Observing that India was facing a huge surge right now, a third senior official said that there's a lot of support that the Biden administration is currently exploring and what they will provide that will be helpful on the ground immediately.

At India's request, we're exploring options to provide oxygen and related supplies. These are resources that India has specifically requested and are very high on their priority list., the official said.

The Department of Defence and US Agency for International Development are pursuing options to provide oxygen generation systems.

According to the official, the Department of Defence is working on oxygen generation systems, including larger-scale as well as smaller-scale units. They are also exploring the provision of field oxygen generation systems, which the US has used in its own field hospitals to provide oxygen for 50 to 100 beds.

They are shorter- and longer-term options that we're providing in the immediate, and then we plan to continue to be engaged over the longer term, the official said.

The Pentagon is also exploring options to provide oxygen concentrations and ventilators.

The US is in technical discussions with India to ensure that the equipment that US supplies will connect to devices in India. The US will also provide training associated with all of these requests as needed.

The US government is also preparing to help with transportation of these and other supplies to India, said the official.

The administration has identified US commercial suppliers of remdesivir that are immediately available to help relieve the suffering of COVID-19 patients in India. It has identified rapid diagnostic testing supplies, as well as personal protective equipment, that will be available to be transferred to India immediately, the official said.

Further, the CDC, working with USAID, will urgently deploy a strike team to India which will include public health experts to work in close collaboration with the US embassy in New Delhi, with India's health ministries and experts, and with India's Epidemic Intelligence Service staff.

That strike team will work hand in hand with India's experts in a number of areas, including laboratory services; surveillance and epidemiology; bioinformatics for sequencing and modelling of the disease; infection, prevention, and control; vaccines rollout; and risk communication, the official said.

The USAID will also work in the public health arena with CDC to support and fast track the mobilisation of emergency resources available through the Global Fund. India's base allocation through the Global Funds COVID-19 resource mobilisation round is USD75 million, the official noted.

Finally, in the broader healthcare service support and supply chain and manufacturing assistance, the United States is offering assistance to also help with the supply chain of oxygen and related healthcare supplies.

Noting that AstraZeneca vaccine is not approved for use in the US, the official said the United States is looking at options to share these doses with other countries as they become available.

Importantly, though, before any AstraZeneca doses can be shipped from the United States, the FDA will confirm that any such doses meet its expectations for product quality. This is being done in the context of FDA's ongoing review of all doses made at the plant where these AstraZeneca doses were produced, said the official.

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first published: Apr 27, 2021 12:45 pm